Category Archives: Volume – 58

I Am Resolved

If God is willing, as the calendar changes to 2017, approximately 45% of Americans will resolve to make a change in the upcoming year.  Most will resolve to lose weight.  Others will endeavor to better organize their lives, spend less money, quit smoking, or spend more time with their families.  Twenty-five percent will give up by the end of the first week and only 8% will achieve their goal.    These statistics are neither encouraging nor inspiring.  For those of us who are “92-percenters” more often than not, the numbers quantify what our failures have taught us:  a life-change is difficult to sustain.  However, a stated commitment to change is far more likely to succeed than either a half-hearted or impulsive attempt.  If you are contemplating goals for the upcoming year, have you given thought to improving your spiritual well-being?

The Holy Spirit promises if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:8).  Where does your relationship with your Creator stand at this moment?  Do you talk with Him on a regular basis?  Do you consistently take time to listen to Him through His scriptures?  Are there moments in each day when you allow your mind to dwell on what is pure, noble, just, and lovely?  Is there a character flaw or habitual sin that weighs you down?  Paul, a man with a history of spiritual self-deception, urges us to examine our lives (see 1 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 13:5, Galatians 6:4).  In this time when reflection and rededication are natural, make the most of this moment by taking spiritual inventory and either make corrections or deepen your commitments.

In his first epistle, John links spiritual health with love for brethren (see 1 John 3:14).  The next time you assemble with the Lord’s body, take time to look at those seated in the pews around you.  Go through the membership list hanging on your refrigerator.  Listen closely during announcement time.  Talk with your brethren before and after assemblies.  Are you attuned to the many possibilities for service in the kingdom of God?  Take a moment to think beyond the public assembly.  Consider all those who you could visit — widows, the sick, those who are discouraged, the spiritually ill, etc.  You do not have to visit them in person.  I know a former elder who has mastered five minute phone calls.  Greeting cards or short notes through the mail or email or Facebook are encouraging as well.  Hot meals or freezer meals delivered to the door are a wonderful comfort to those who grieve or who are in the midst of troubling times.  And above all else, prayers, intercessions, supplications, and giving of thanks need to be offered for our brethren.  Any brother or sister, at any stage in life, in nearly any physical condition can minister to the Lord’s body in prayer.  Our congregations desperately need to be blanketed with the faithful prayers of the righteous.  As you inventory your spiritual life, take into account how you can serve the church in the upcoming months.

In setting spiritual goals for 2017, do not forget those beyond the borders of God’s kingdom.  The first century church went about preaching the word and did not leave this responsibility to the apostles (see Acts 8:1-4).  Effective personal evangelism begins with your example.  We must give people a reason to ask about the reason for the hope that is in us (see 1 Peter 3:13-17).   Are you under a basket?  Have you lost your flavor?  Is the influence of Christ evident in your life?    Adorn the doctrine of Christ with your good behavior as well as sound speech.  Speak words seasoned with goodwill, speak the truth with love, and share what the Lord has done for you and what He will do for everyone.  With some imagination and diligence, all of this can be incorporated into your daily interactions.

Having established your testimony, now ask your friends or neighbors or co-workers about his or her beliefs.  Listen to what they say and do not respond before you have heard their entire answer (see Proverbs 18:13).  Find areas to agree and when you disagree, seek to better understand their perspective:   “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5).  Once you know more about what they believe, invite them to study the Bible with you.  Remember that faith comes by hearing the word of God, not by hearing the words of men or women (Romans 10:17).  Trust in the power of God’s word to convict, convince, and persuade (see John 16:7-11 and Hebrews 4:12-13).

Like the beginning of baseball season, a new year breathes optimism, hopefulness, and opportunity into life.  A sense of a fresh start can inspire us to do better and to live better.  However, may I suggest that new commitments are often abandoned because they fail to address our true needs.  The dissatisfaction that compels resolutions may be spiritual, not physical.  Feed your soul in 2017.  Endeavor to draw near to God, to serve your brethren, and to minister the good news of Jesus to the lost.

I am resolved no longer to linger,

Charmed by the world’s delight;

Things that are higher, things that are nobler,

These have allured my sight.

~ Palmer Hartsough

~ Wade Stanley

Prince of Peace

Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, ‘Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?’ And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, ‘Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!’ (Mark 4:36-41).

The world is growing tempestuous. Entire cities are engulfed with mob violence. Good is called evil and evil is called good. Individuals of ill-repute continue to gain wealth and power. This may leave us feeling a lot like the disciples: afraid and wondering where our Teacher is.

Isaiah 9:6 prophesies concerning our Teacher:

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah denotes the Messiah as Prince of Peace. The word “Prince” used here is rendered “chief” in Genesis 40:2. It gives the idea of authority committed to one at the behest of a greater. Christ speaks of himself in John 5:22, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed judgment to the Son.” Again, he says in John 14:10:

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.”

As Prince of Peace, then, we understand that Christ was entrusted with peace from God to share with man.

Christ speaks of sharing this peace in John 16:33:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

While acknowledging trouble in this world, He triumphantly expresses having overcome the world. What did it matter, then, if the world brought trial? There was something greater. The flesh may bring disease, failure, grief, or loss. Christ overcame all, and in Him you too have overcome the world. John writes in 1 John 4:4, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world.” Therefore, let us be at peace in this world, knowing that we have overcome through Christ and are now more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

Paul describes the peace that comes through Christ in Ephesians 2:13-15:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.”

Through Christ we are all one family. He took the Gentiles, who were not God’s people, and grafted them into the family tree, thus making peace with God for all. Verse 16 continues, “and that he might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” Christ’s death took the discord away, enabling all to enjoy peace with God. Isaiah 53:5 remarks, “the chastisement for our peace was upon Him.”

This peace with God means that we now have a means to peace with one another. It doesn’t come through political party affiliation or philosophical ideologies. It comes from abiding together in one body in Christ. Isaiah 11:6-9 presents nine incredible scenes:

 “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.”

These are unthinkable scenes of peace. Verse 9 concludes, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” We have been reconciled to God, and therefore we belong to a kingdom which stands for peace. Consider brethren in North and South Korea praying for each other. Consider brethren in Russia and Ukraine praising God together. Consider voters on either side of politics in the USA bearing with one another in love. God’s peace extends beyond physical borders or political spectrums. God’s kingdom breaks down barriers of nation, race, and tongue, making all equal as sons of God.

Paul concludes in Ephesians 2:19-20:

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”

We are all one in Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Let us, therefore, fix our eyes upon the Prince of Peace, and let the boisterous waves of this world fall harmlessly at our feet.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7).

~ Joshua Riggins

Chicken Little

Chicken Little  noun

  1. A confirmed pessimist, particularly one who warns of impending disaster.
  2. One who warns of or predicts calamity especially without justification

 [After a character in a story who is hit on the head by an acorn and believes the sky is falling.]

(Webster’s Dictionary)

Pessimism, expecting bad things, anticipating the worst, is a blight for God’s people. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, despite all the spectacle of God’s power in Egypt and at the Red Sea, and the fulfillment of his promises, the people repeatedly fell into a fearful expectation of calamity and grumbling. They accused Moses and God of bringing them into the desert to starve and to die of thirst (Exodus 16:3, 17:3, Numbers 20:4). The Exodus generation of Israel was afflicted with pessimism, which not only made them unhappy, but often motivated anger, contentiousness, and bad behavior, and ultimately separated them from enjoying God’s promises.

Generations after Moses’s time, when the Jewish rulers looked at Jesus, his ministry, his preaching, the good works he did, the many miracles (even including reviving a man who had been dead and buried four days), they were pessimistic about the outcome. They swept aside the good, ignoring the clear evidence of God’s hand at work. They refused to believe Jesus was bringing the promises of God to fulfillment, and instead convinced each other “the sky is falling.” Because they feared the future with Jesus alive and working, they chose to murder an innocent man, to avoid calamity (they thought), thus fulfilling prophecy but defying God.

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.  “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:47-48)

When the Jewish rulers anticipated the worst, that the Romans would come and destroy them, they chose to act on their pessimism by attacking Jesus. The unhappy irony is that while they did fulfill prophecy in rejecting the Christ, they also sealed the destiny of  “our place and our nation,” bringing upon themselves and their children the very destruction by the Romans that they feared (see Matthew 23:37-39).

What God has always wanted for his people is the optimism that comes, not from avoiding difficulties, but from trusting God in all circumstances. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances… I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Romans 8:31, Philippians 4:11-13). God has never assured his people that they/we would have carefree lives in this world, or that the world would not change around them/us. Rather he has promised his people that they/we can have confidence of his help to overcome every obstacle, including death itself.

Paul wrote that Christians are the children of Abraham and are blessed along with Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9).  Being descendants of Abraham, Christians can understand Isaiah 41:8-16 as promises fulfilled in the Lord’s church. God’s servant consists of people from all over the world, chosen by God, triumphant over every enemy, over all the nations. No matter what the momentary circumstance of those “who rage against you” or who it is that “wage war against you,” God’s promise persists. God’s people have no reason to ever be “Chicken Littles.”

~ Charles Fry

Ideally, Where Does it Start?

I was recently talking with a brother whose teenage son was immersed into the Lord two months ago.  He told me his son said his first public prayer in a church assembly just a week ago or so after having submitted to the Lord only recently.  I was not surprised, though I do not know the young teen more than by simple acquaintance.  However, I know this brother, and I know of his faith, and I know his wife, a sister also full of faith.  And therefore I was confident of their family life.  So, I was not surprised the young man was already immersing himself in the public assembly.  Praise God!

      Now to many religious institutions that are not of the Lord, this is not the normal.  Even among many churches of Christ this may not be the normal.  But among the congregations of the Lord’s people that practice and encourage the average brothers as the primary teachers of the body, this is certainly not uncommon.  Young men begin sometimes early in their life as public participants in the meetings of the saints.  They have watched their grandfathers, fathers, uncles, various brothers and even peers participate in active ways through prayers, song leading, public readings, serving the Lord’s Supper, and yes, even teaching and preaching.  This is common among the churches who practice such.

      Where does this spirit of service ideally begin?  Does it begin at the teen or young adult years?  Does it begin at the college level?  No!  Ideally it begins in the home.  It begins at the kitchen table or in the living or family rooms.  It begins in the privacy of their bedrooms as they study their lessons from the various classes in the assemblies.  Yes, ideally it begins in the homes.  I use the term “ideally” to point out there are exceptions.  There are certainly those who do not have the blessing of growing up within the body of believers.  They must learn these practices as adults, and they can certainly do so as they endeavor to serve in these public ways.  But ideally it begins in the home.

      It is worth noting that in some of the congregations I am trying to serve in my work this principle of mutual edification is new.  Many of them are doing so out of necessity, for perhaps they do not have the funds to hire a man to do the work of the brothers.  And there are certainly some congregations who have chosen to begin the work of the brothers publicly teaching and admonishing, and so they must start the process.  Starting such a process can be a difficult transition, for they do not have the advantage of growing up and watching the previous brothers while knowing and expecting their turns will come as a natural result of time.

            Yes, indeed, ideally this process begins in the home as fathers and mothers begin to groom their children for these responsibilities, even before birth.  I have read studies that show unborn children reacting to positive spiritual environments from such activities as singing or praying or simply the great contentment and pleasure of a mother carrying her child with joy.  What a great way to begin such training!  Yes, indeed, God knows how to teach us to teach!

~ Jay H. Graham

Take Up My Cross

In Jesus’ rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees as recorded by Matthew, it reads not all aspects of service to the Lord are equal.

 “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.  These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23).  

All parts of God’s covenant are to be respected and followed, but this does not mean they all have the same weight when it comes to salvation and fighting against the indulgence of the flesh.

I’ve probably spent too much of my time focusing on minor matters of being a child of God.  Perhaps many of us are guilty of this, to various degrees.  Standing up against false teaching, laying out the biblical case for baptism as an essential part of salvation, setting forth arguments against attempts to adulterate the simplicity of the worship services, and the list goes on.  But in all of this, I run a real risk of missing the point entirely regarding what Jesus has ultimately asked of me in this life.

“And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

To borrow from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, if I can perfectly understand all knowledge and silence false teachers, but have left my cross behind, I am not worthy of my Lord.  If I give away all my goods to the poor, fast regularly, read daily, and pray often, but have not burdened myself with my cross, I am not worthy of the price Jesus paid at his cross.  My life has become unprofitable.

The point is emphasized and clarified a few chapters later when Jesus, after revealing his future sufferings and death to his disciples, said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me”  (Matthew 16:24).  I cannot carry my cross in one hand and life’s trophies in the other.  I cannot shoulder my cross while still “bearing the weight of sin which so easily besets [me]” (Hebrews 12:1).  Before I can follow, I must pick up my cross.  Before I can pick up my cross, I must deny myself.

To do so means a complete and total commitment to Christ.  Peter and Andrew left their nets and their livelihoods to commit themselves to Jesus.  Will I do this?  James and John left their father’s side when the Lord called.  Can I walk away from family ties, if necessary?  Paul counted all of his past life’s accomplishments as rubbish so he might gain Jesus?  Will I do something less because temporal accomplishments are more important than pleasing my king?  While in chains, Paul reflected, “one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13).

My life must be a clear and complete commitment to Christ.  This means following the example of Jesus when he took off his divinity to put on his humanity.  As translated in the ESV, Jesus “emptied himself” and “took on the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).  Jesus gave up his throne to take on a life in the flesh and then sacrificed this life so we might be free and have hope.  What will I do in light of his self-denial? If I still seek to satisfy the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, I have not given up my life nor picked up my cross nor followed my Lord.  I am unworthy.

For immigrants to this country who wish to become citizens, the oath at naturalization reads, “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen…”  Newly naturalized citizens can no longer pledge allegiance to their past King, Queen, Chancellor, or President.  Through this oath they renounce all past ties – they publicly deny all former allegiances – and embrace allegiance to a new country and new President.  For me to follow Jesus, to be worthy of him, I must do the same to my former service to the flesh and its passions.

Failing in this critical point, this weighty matter of Christ’s covenant, is to miss out on everything.  “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” and “whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27, 33).

If I falter, the fix is not to go to church more.  The fix is not to simply convince myself that there is a God and his Son is Jesus Christ.  The fix is to admit I’ve been too caught up in trying to make something on my own of my life and in doing so my cross has been tossed aside and my feet have wandered away from my Lord.  I have become unworthy.

I can’t neglect the minor matters – those things which amount to tithing mint and anise and cumin – but the weightier matters, specifically the weight of the cross, must also be part of my walk with Christ.  My life for him, my trophies cast aside, my cross resting on my shoulders, and my mind set on things above where Christ is pressing forward to my upward call from God, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

~ Jeremy Morris

History and the Bible

Did the Bible writers intend to record real history? Not according to some critics. One writer says, “Some stories in the Bible were meant to be history, others fiction…”  And again, “…only some of the stories in the New Testament were meant as history.”  This is a trending perspective on the Bible that is not at all unexpected in the world, but it is still imperative that these kinds of unfounded philosophies not find any foothold in the Church.

The writers of the Bible wrote real facts and real history, and it was important to these men that their readers understood this.  The apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” His fellow apostle, John, also drew attention to the reliability of his own record in 1 John 1:1-2:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us…

And Luke, of course, prefaces his writings as being especially dependable. Luke 1:1-4:

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

These writers’ first priority was to convey the fundamental elements of the Christian faith, but attention to accuracy and credibility was an essential element of this effort.

The New Testament writers intended for their words to be considered as dependable records of real and profoundly important events. Certainly this is equally true of the Old Testament writings where Bible events are often couched in the context of secular happenings with extensive references to specific dates, times, world leaders, and other corroborating evidences.  Not surprising, then, are the ubiquitous extra-biblical references that substantiate the inspired chronicles. David, Ahab, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Hoshea, Jehu, Jotham, and Manasseh are just a few of the dozens of biblical figures described in records other than the Bible. Some of these secular references to biblical people and places are very, very old. A 3,200 year old Egyptian monument mentions the people of Israel in the land of Canaan – a description that agrees with the Bible record. One especially interesting extra-biblical reference to an Old Testament person is the bulla of Baruch the scribe of Jeremiah. Two bullae, a scribe’s equivalent of a signet ring, have been discovered with the inscription: “Baruch son of Neriah,” the very person who worked with Jeremiah and quite possibly wrote large portions of the Old Testament. Examples like this are abundant and more are being discovered each year, but still the world wants us to read the Bible as fanatical religious fiction.

Extra-biblical references to New Testament people and places are practically innumerable. Essentially all of the leaders, political figures, and locations are discussed by contemporary sources outside of the Bible. Because of the volumes of references to Jesus and his Apostles, no one can seriously debate whether or not they existed. At least six different non-biblical sources make reference to Jesus. None of these sources intend to validate the writings of the Bible, but that is definitely the effect.  Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius all mention Christ and his following of Christians. Notably, the Bible records several supernatural events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ, some of which continued to be a discussion outside of the Bible well into the 2nd century. This quotation comes from a man named Julius Africanus (c. 160 – c. 240) who refers to the writings of two other men.

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun…Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth – manifestly that one of which we speak.

Secular references to biblical people and places are not essential for a Christian’s faith, but these observations are still valuable as a plurality of witnesses is always desirable.  Like Moses explained in Deuteronomy 19:15, “…by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”

 ~ Tad Morris

Religious Cosmetics

“Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?”  (2 Corinthians 10:7).

Much of the denominational world uses the Law of Moses as a reference for its standards and practices.  Often, there is a mix of the ten commandments, buildings referred to as temples or tabernacles, rooms or places accorded a special degree of holiness, ceremonies, special days of observation, votive lights, instrumental music, tithing, and incense. There is even something akin to a priestly caste. This is reflected by terms of respect: Father, Reverend, Doctor, among other things. As members of Christ, we need to beware. We don’t want to unthinkingly absorb these things as a natural expression of faith. Rather, we need to see them for what they are – empty.

The Lord used the example of marriage to show us how the outward display of religion (works of the law), which was important in Moses’ day, is no longer incorporated into our practice of faith.

Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man (Romans 7:1-3).

The Law of Moses was like a marriage which bound God’s people to Himself. The Lord used many external, symbolic things to reinforce this union. To forsake God was a type of adultery. This was committed by worshiping idols, changing the form of worship He gave, or turning away from Him in any other way. Just as the death of the spouse ends the marriage (“she is free from that law”), killing the Son of God, the One in whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead, ended that union with God.

Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God (Romans 7:4).

The good news is that Jesus rose from the dead and offers reconciliation. The result is a people of faith, a people who have accepted responsibility for their sin and have been redeemed to a new life. Our Hebrew brethren had to learn the law did not dictate the terms of the new covenant. The law of commandments and ordinances could not transform man into perfection. The letter of the law was external to man’s spirit, symbolized by tables of stone. In God’s wisdom, the law of Moses was to prepare people for salvation. The faithful of the law were those sinners hungering and thirsting after righteousness. They were not satisfied by the law, but by Christ:

For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:5-6).

Just as the widow dies to the previous marriage (thus becoming available for another marriage), so souls under the law were made free from the works of the law and its bondage of sin, to serve in the newness of the Spirit. The invitation to enjoy that freedom has been given to all, Jews and Gentiles alike. Even though the Law of Moses is over, the Spirit still convicts the world of sin, and the lost are called to repentance and a new life.

Jesus’s sacrifice did not produce a religion of externals; it produced a people alive in Christ: “we should serve in the newness of the Spirit.” Here is a sampling of other scriptures which point to this same thing:

   Romans 8:1-2:  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

   Romans 8:9-10: But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

   Romans 8:13-15:  For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’

   2 Corinthians 3:2-3:  You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.

   2 Corinthians 3:5-6: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

   1 John 3:24:  Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

There is a practical outcome to serving in newness of the Spirit. It is the walk of success. It begins with the courage to see what needs to be changed in ourselves. It continues in the strength of our Lord Jesus Christ to make those changes. Everything that truly will give us peace of mind and joy is found in the daily walk of faith. The Spirit, given to us through Christ, is the link between us and the Father. The law’s tables of stone impressed itself on the mind but did not change man’s nature. The letter written on our hearts by the Spirit changes our nature – conversion. This is a matter of faith. If we believe what is provided through Jesus the Messiah, then we have hope for a better day here on this earth and the glory of the world to come. The thief will learn not to steal, the adulterer will learn fidelity, the liar will become honest, and the idolater will serve God in Spirit and truth. We will learn to carry our crosses and to become more like Jesus.

If we do not believe what the Lord has done for us, then what is left but no service to God, or the salve of external religion? There is no strengthening power in the religion of man’s invention. A candle, the smell of incense, stained glass, or a spire have no power. They cannot make us more wise, self-disciplined, informed, kind, or loving. Those things can make us religious, but that is not the same as being faithful to God. If we understand these are of no value, then why be zealous for such things? That is apostasy and antichrist.

1 John 4:2-3:  By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

To deny that Christ has come in the flesh is to reject the redemption of Calvary in favor of worldly religion. Worldly religion has a pattern of external appearances to make us feel we are something we are not. There may be crosses abounding, but there is no redemption in these things.

To confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to have faith that He overcame the world as one of us for our sake, that we might follow Him. There is a great deal of responsibility in this. There is also a great deal of life in being “dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God” (Romans 7:4).

~ Louis Garbi

Give No Offense

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).

Give no offense. More than good advice for Christians, this is the Lord’s command! Christians should be thoughtfully careful about what we say, what we promote, what we share, what we support, what we demonstrate in word and deed and affectations. Christians should be more than willing to discard human symbols that are questionable or divisive, and avoid language and terminology that is connected (or appears to be connected) with hatred or bigotry or oppression. Such symbols and words and the personal pride that accompanies them cannot advance the Lord’s kingdom, “that they may be saved!”

If God’s people need an image to uphold, let it be the image of Christ, becoming more and more like him in word and deed.

Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

If the redeemed want a banner to wave and rally behind, let it be the banner of His love, giving and sharing as He did.

Song of Solomon 2:4, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.”

If believers claim a name to uphold against the doubters and the critics, let it be the name Christian, a name worth suffering for without shame or compromise.

1 Peter 4:16, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

As Christians, we must beware of entanglement in nationalism, conservatism, liberalism, partyism, cronyism, racism, regionalism, tribalism, sexism, and whatever other “isms” there are. Such human creeds and loyalties easily distract from the holy life God requires and should not claim the loyalty of Christians to the detriment of the body of Christ and the message of salvation.

It was certainly challenging in Paul’s day to “give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,” but that was the demand of following Christ, to put aside personal inclinations and even family or national heritage for the sake of harmony in the church and effective testimony in the world. The demand, the command, still stands for all who will follow Christ. The kingdom of God comes first, all else is of secondary importance, or no importance at all (Matthew 6:33 and context).

~ Charles Fry

The Spirit of Fear

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

One of Satan’s more destructive weapons of temptation against the people of God is to cause us to be afraid.  We are tempted to view the continuing spiral into darkness of our modern society with fear and anxiety.  If Satan can cause us to fear, he knows we will not act in a manner in accordance to what our God requires.

Now to be clear, there is a fear that is right and proper.  We are to fear God because our righteous fear of the Lord will lead us to submission to Him in all things.  That is certain.  Obviously, Satan does not wish us to fear our God, but he does want us to fear other things.  Jesus spoke of these two contrasting fears in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

We are tempted to fear so many things in this life.  We see many things going wrong here in these United States.  We see basic morality crumbling.  We see the family structure under attack from so many directions.  We see lawlessness and corruption.  We see this ongoing war with militant Islam.  We see many things that are having a negative impact on our lives, and we are tempted to be frightened.  Often this kind of fear causes many to lash out in anger and resentment.  It can lead many to react in ways that are not godly, because, often times, anger is a mask for fear.

There are many examples in the Scriptures when the Lord’s people were afraid of things other than God, and it led to their faltering faith.  In Numbers 13 & 14, Israel had an opportunity to take what the Lord had promised them.  However, their fear led to their rebellion and eventual death.  In Matthew 14, after Peter had taken a leap of faith and actually walked on the water as His Lord was doing, he took his eyes off the Lord and saw the boisterous wind, and he grew afraid and started to sink.  An interesting point in this story is the wind was present at the beginning of his walk of faith, and as long as his eyes were on the Lord he was not afraid!  What a great lesson for us.  If we keep our spiritual eyes upon the Lord, we WILL NOT be afraid!  In Mark 4:35-41, the disciples feared for their lives and cried out to the Master.  After Jesus calmed the storm, He rebuked His disciples.  Apparently, they had it within them to at least not be afraid.  Imagine if Peter would have said, “Do not trouble the Master.” And what if he would have commanded the storm to be still in Jesus’ name?  I strongly suspect the storm would have ceased!  But their fear kept them from doing what was right.

Now what is really interesting is that if you consider these examples in light of the passage I opened this article with, you will note what God has for us.  Rather than fear He wishes us to have power, love and self-control.  In each of these previous instances, His people did not have any of these!  And that caused them to sin.

There are many passages of scripture that teaches us we should not be afraid and why:

“For God is with us” (Psalm 23:4)

Man can do nothing serious to us (Matthew 10:28)

“We did not receive the spirit of bondage to fear” (Romans 8:12-15)

“Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18)

To be clear, God does not wish us to be ignorant of our surroundings to the point that we do not care.  We are truly to have a godly concern of right and wrong, but we dare not let the cares of the world take control of our lives.  This is where power, love and self-control come in.  If we let the cares of the world control us, this will lead to thoughts and actions that are not godly, and eventually, it can lead to the damnation of our souls.  Why?  Because we have lost sight of what our God wants of us.  Brothers and sisters, let us not be of those who draw back from the Lord as warned in Hebrews 12:15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”  Indeed, fear causes bitterness and other works of the flesh.

In practical terms, what might we do to help prevent this type of fear?  If the news troubles you, maybe you do not need to watch or listen to as much of it.  Do some opinions seem to rile you up?  Tune them out.  Find things to help your spirit whether it means reading more of God’s Word, praying for strength, spending time with the brethren, or listening to things that edify rather than what tears you down.

Finally, consider an opposite to fear:  peace.  Peace will indeed be a help to our spirits.  If we are at peace with the Lord, we will be at peace with others.  Consider the godly example of Stephen in Acts 7.  Even while he was being ridiculed and stoned, he was at peace with his murderers because he was not afraid.  This gave him the power, love and self-control to say “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”  May we be as faithful while living in the midst of this “evil and adulterous generation” (Philippians 2:15)

~ Jay H. Graham

Profanity or Praise

We live in a time when the LORD’s name is taken more in profanity than in praise. Most reading this article will think that we seldom, if ever, use the Lord’s name in profanity or swearing.  But what about using it with little thought for its deep meaning (taking it in vain via casual or empty thought)?

Countless times in scripture we are told to “Praise the LORD.” In fact, Psalms ends in a great crescendo as the last five Psalms all begin and end with that admonition, “Praise the LORD.”  But Psalm 148:5 and 13 specifically tell us to “praise the name of the LORD.”  Why His name? Because God’s name (or I should say names) are unique and provide great revelatory insight into who He is, His nature, and His character.

God’s uniqueness is shown in many ways not the least of which are His names. And unlike us, God chooses His own names. For us, names are often just labels, something to identify us from others.  But in the Hebrew culture they carried significant meaning. The names God chose for Himself are neither random nor arbitrary but carefully considered by Him to reveal to us more of His nature and character, so that we may know Him better and draw closer to Him.

By sharing with us these names, God also expresses a desire for us to know Him. So when we see His names we should ask: what is God trying to show us with each name He has revealed? When in Psalm 23:3 it says “for His name’s sake,” God does not need to save His reputation, but it is telling us that God is acting in conformity to His own nature. Each name shows us more of that majestic nature.

In the Old Testament, three primary names for God are given: ELOHIM, YHWH and ADONAI. Other compound extensions from these three names are given, but let us focus on these primary three.

ELOHIM is the name we are first given in Genesis 1. God’s first revelation to us is that He is our Creator. In fact, it is the only name used for God throughout Genesis 1. It is not until Genesis 2:4 that we are given another name for God. ELOHIM is the Creator God. And it is the one found with the creation. It is used approximately 2,600 times in the Old Testament and is translated “God.” When we read “God” in the Old Testament, it is almost exclusively from ELOHIM.

ELOHIM is also in the plural form which is consistent, if not proof, of the triune nature of God, commonly called the trinity. In Genesis 1, we see all three personages of God: the Spirit hovering over the deep and the Father and Son saying “let us make man in our image.”

When we come to Genesis 2:4, God gives a second name for Himself: “YHWH.” YHWH is now often seen as YAHWEH with the addition of vowels. The KJV renders YHWH as Jehovah in a few places.  This is the most used name for God in scripture, appearing nearly 7,000 times. It was also the most sacred name to the Jews. So sacred, they feared writing or speaking it lest they would profane the name of God (Exodus 20:7 and Leviticus 19:12). YHWH (often called the “Tetragrammaton” meaning “four letter word”) is seen as LORD (all capital letters) in reliable English translations. It carries the meaning of the “self-existent one, to be.” It is the root of God’s claim “I am that I am” in Exodus 3, signifying that God has always existed and is self-existent.

Yes, God is the creator (ELOHIM) but He is more than that; He is the eternal one (YHWH). YHWH also carries the essence of a God revealing Himself to us so that we could have a relationship with Him. It expresses His desire to have a relationship with us. So when we look at Genesis 2:4 and see YHWH ELOHIM (LORD God) we are being told that God is not only our creator but an eternal God who wants to have a relationship with man. Genesis 2 is not simply a further explanation of the 6th day of creation, but we see God and man developing a relationship. God forms (creates) man but then gives him a place to live (the Garden), work to do (tend the Garden), name the animals, the beginning of rules to live by and finally the establishment of the family.

The third dominant name for God in the Old Testament is “ADONAI,” and it carries the idea of Owner and Master. It is used about 438 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. While not used as often as ELOHIM or YHWH, its impact is great. We first encounter it in Genesis 15:2. From Genesis 12 to 22 Abraham’s faith is growing to the climax seen in Genesis 22. Part of Abraham’s growth is in his acknowledgment that God is his Owner/Master. Another example of man’s growth is seen in Exodus 4:10 where we see Moses acknowledging this name of God for the first time in recorded scripture. Moses is struggling with God’s assignment for him to return to Egypt to lead the Exodus.  As part of Moses coming to grips with this, he acknowledges that God is his owner/master. What a lesson for us. Before God can truly use us, we have to acknowledge He is also our master, our ADONAI, and submit to Him.

There are many additional names God uses, often compound derivations from these basic three names. From ELOHIM we get El Shaddai, El Elyon, El Olam, etc. From YHWH we get Jehovah Jireh, Jehovah Nissi, Yahweh Rohi, Yahweh Shalom, etc. What can we learn from these names? The brevity of this article will not allow us to examine each of them here, but I encourage you to revel in the study of them.

When we recognize these names as presented in the original text, we learn much more about the nature and character of our God. How blessed we are to have a God who created us in His image (ELOHIM), who reveals Himself so we can have a relationship with Him (YHWH), and who cares enough for us to be our overseeing and protecting master. (ADONAI).

“Oh LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1). Understanding the names of God allows us to praise and worship Him more effectively and intimately. His name is like a fort that provides protection for the believer: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10).

And then we come to Jesus (JESUS= Jehovah/YHWH saves). We also find great insight in the names Emmanuel, Savior, Christ, the Word, Alpha and Omega, Son of God, etc. Of course, the New Testament words are Greek rather than Hebrew.  But the glory of His name continues.

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

In a society which uses His name with such disrespect, let us remember He is our Elohim, our YHWH and our Adonai. Let the profanity end and let the praise begin!

~ John Lee